For the past four years, I have been studying, writing, and talking about what makes people resilient and better able to handle stress. Much of my work involves helping people identify the mindsets and faulty assumptions that undercut their happiness, resilience, and ability to manage stress. I'm passionate about this topic because I spent over a year in hell burning out toward the end of my law practice.
I'm frequently asked how I recovered from such a tough period in my life, and I did it not by helping others, saying thank you, or increasing my positive emotions, sound research-based self-help tidbits that work only if you understand the root cause of your own unhappiness and unworthiness. The only thing that really helped me get out of the abyss and truly thrive and change was weeding through all of the mindsets that have been quietly (and sometimes loudly) undercutting my ability to be my happiest self.
I had to figure out why I started getting panic attacks at the age of 14. I had to figure out why I thought it was more important to impress people and go into a career in law rather than follow my heart and become a writer. I had to trace the genesis of my perfectionistic, people pleasing, achieve-aholic tendencies. I had to discover why I wasn't getting the most out of my relationships.
People avoid these conversations and going there, as I like to call it, like the plague. Understanding your mindsets is tough and getting to the root cause isn't a quick fix. Some of the most pivotal moments in my work have come when folks have had the willingness to stand up and say things like, "Damn, I guess I was part of the reason why my marriages failed," or "My kids don't want to talk to me because I'm a big, fat jerk." Those are humbling moments that lead to profound self-awareness, true change and can lay the groundwork for lasting happiness.
There are thousands of how-to books, yet our divorce rate is sky high, we're still searching for happiness, and we're the heaviest people on the planet. Self-help works only if you're willing to dig deep and figure out the root cause of what's going on for you, and that takes work.
Here are 10 deeply-held beliefs that act as barriers to true happiness and lasting change:
1. What will people think of me?
2. I have to be the good ________. (Fill in the blank -- teacher, wife, daughter, son, etc.)
3. I have to achieve more.
4. I have to be perfect.
5. I'm not good enough. (Or substitute -- pretty, thin, worthy, smart, rich, etc.)
6. I can handle it all on my own.
7. I'll pretend everything is OK.
8. I should put everyone else first -- I'll worry about "me" later.
9. I have to be a people pleaser or "they" won't like me.
10. I can't be perceived as weak.
These deeply-held beliefs and faulty assumptions prevent us from putting ourselves out there and taking risks, strategies that happy people rely on to succeed. They also prevent us from having those tough conversations, whether with ourselves or with important people in our lives.
Self-help strategies will help, but only if you first understand the belief system driving the stress, unhappiness, and unfulfillment. The next time you are stressed, write down the beliefs you have about the event and the emotions that are produced. As you become more aware of your crooked thinking patterns, you can break the cycle and begin to develop a better understanding of those mindsets that stand between you and lasting happiness and change. What else would you add to the list?
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is an internationally-published writer and travels the globe as a stress and resilience expert. She has trained over one thousand professionals on how to manage their stress and increase their happiness by building a specific set of skills designed to develop personal resilience and prevent burnout. Paula is available for speaking engagements, training workshops, media commentary, and private life coaching -- contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.pauladavislaack.com.
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I compiled this list based on my own observations of, and discussions with, co-workers, coaching clients, folks who I have trained and taught, classmates, and my own self-awareness. To learn more about mindsets, faulty assumptions, and crooked thinking patterns, please check out these great resources:
Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (2nd Ed.). New York: The Guilford Press.
Braiker, H.B. (2006). The Type E* Woman. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc.
Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset. New York: Random House.
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